Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Parenting with Simplicity

We hear so much these days from news, schools, TV, and even movies about declining ecosystems and how important it is to be environmentally conscious. We’re also told we need to give our children the very best and help them have every opportunity to grow up into highly successful and accomplished adults. This often means our goals for simple living get trampled by our actions. Why? Because it’s expensive to try to give our kids everything. At we peek beneath the surface to get a look at what our kids really need and how to meet those real needs in a way that works for everyone, including the environment. Let’s look at a few ways it’s hard to be an eco-parent and some simple options for change.

1. “A new baby is on the way! There’s so much to buy!” We’ve internalized a message that babies are expensive. This need not be the truth. Most articles about being an eco-friendly parent target greener choices for new babies. Instead of reiterating them, I’ll give you my shortcut: Look to attachment parenting for ideas that are good for your baby’s emotional and physical health and are also gentler on the environment. Here are a few Green Options: 
  • Every time you don’t buy something, you are taking a small step in favor of the environment 
  • Co-sleeping means no need to purchase a crib. 
  • Babywearing means less need for strollers and playpens. 
  • Meaningful interaction with other humans means less need for stuffed animals, mobiles, and electronic entertainment.

2. “Mom. I need a new iPhone!” Often the need for a new gadget is more about status than substance. When we have to have the newest and best (or even the new and the good) in order to feel good about ourselves and our place in the social pecking order, then the opportunity exists for each of us to be exploited by our own insecurity and greed. The environment suffers as do our bank accounts. Simplifying and ‘making do’ will often lead to more time to spend together and more satisfaction with what we have.  

Green Option: Consider having a family computer that is shared rather than one computer for each person. Consider having a family phone rather than individual cell phones. Do you truly need to be able to reach each other every minute of every day?

3. “Dad, I need to be at soccer on Tuesday, ballet on Thursday, dance on Friday, and I need you to pick me up after school Monday and Wednesday for drama and choir.” Not only are you exhausted with all the extra driving and picking up, all those extra miles pile up in the family car adding to maintenance and fuel bills. Burning all that extra gas causes a lot of greenhouse gases to be emitted.  

Green Option 1: Look to the cause of the activity to see if it’s necessary. What’s driving the need to be in all these activities? Is your child happy? Is this an endless search to fit in, grow up, become accomplished, boost his/her chances of getting into a good college, or something else? There is a lot of movement, but is there substance?  

Green Option #2: Can you bike, take public transit, or ride share? Sure, all of these options take more time than jumping in a private car but they offer other perks like exercise, meeting new people, and making a small change to save the world.

4. “I just have to have these new designer jeans!”  

Green Option #1: Shop for used clothing. There are so many good options. Look for options like the Humane Society Thrift Shop, Hospice Thrift Shop, Salvation Army, and Savers. All of these donate to charitable causes. Many towns also have a host of privately owned consignment shops where you can get high-end gently used clothing for about half-off the new retail price. Bonus: Your money stays in the local economy, you’re supporting local small businesses, you don’t have any chemical residue from clothing manufacture on your new clothes, and you aren’t supporting unfair labor practices. 

Green Option #2: Start a community closet in your neighborhood, school, church, or other community center. Does everyone really need one of everything? Insatiable market growth says ‘yes’, but being respectful to the environment says ‘no’. Try sharing. All it takes is space to hang and fold clothing that is accessible to everyone. Either pay someone to rehang and sort clothing or have it be a rotational chore among the people involved. Bonus: You don’t have to have as much closet space in your own house and can keep only a few essential pieces in your home.

You may find these ideas wonderful, absurd, or na├»ve. The point is to get us all thinking about the impact our parenting choices, especially the urge to buy more stuff, have on the environment. Let’s at least take the time to ask why we need something before we buy it. If there’s a less expensive option – for you, for the environment – then why not take it?

What have you done to green-up your parenting? What’s been challenging?

Please take a moment and share your mistakes and triumphs with us!

Guest post written by Kassandra Brown, who is starting her new internet-based parent coaching business in part to have zero emissions from commuting. Healing the environment through the healing of personal pain and alienation is one of the leading goals of her work. Contact her at kassandra(at) for special offers on parent coaching. 

Photo courtesy of Alline Anderson.

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